ITK president asks pope to intervene in case of French priest accused of sex crimes in Nunavut

APTN - Aboriginal Peoples Television Network [Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada]

March 28, 2022

By Kathleen Martens

Natan Obed is in Rome as part of a delegation trying to get Pope Francis to Canada

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with the trauma  of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

The president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami asked Pope Francis Monday to intervene personally in the unresolved case of Johannes Rivoire, a retired Roman Catholic priest living in France linked to sex abuse allegations in Nunavut.

Natan Obed, who speaks for all Inuit in Canada, said he made the request as part of an “hour-long encounter” with the pontiff and eight-member Inuit delegation to the Vatican in Rome.

“We asked that the pope speak with Fr. Rivoire directly and ask him to go to Canada to face the charges that he’s up on in Canada,” said Obed.

“And, if Fr. Rivoire is not agreeable to that, if the pope would do all that he could to work with the French government to ensure that either extradition can happen or that Fr. Rivoire can be tried in France.”

The RCMP charged Rivoire, an Oblate priest, with three sex crimes involving minors after he left Canada for France in 1993. Rivoire worked in several Arctic communities from 1960 to 1974.

Rivoire was wanted on an international arrest warrant until 2017, when Canada stayed the charges citing a lack of cooperation from France. France does not extradite its citizens to stand trial elsewhere.

In December 2021, Justice Minister David Lametti told APTN News the alleged victims would need to come forward again to build a new criminal case against Rivoire.

Delegations representing Inuit, Métis and First Nations Peoples are in Italy this week as part of the Canadian Catholic church and government’s efforts to respond to Indigenous demands for justice, reconciliation and reparations.

Métis and Inuit delegations met with Francis on Monday and the First Nations see him Thursday, with a mental health counselor present for each session. The delegates then gather Friday as a group for a more formal audience, with Francis delivering an address.

Obed said the Inuit meeting centered around faith, the ongoing presence of the Catholic church in Inuit Nuangaat, and the negative impact of abuse at residential schools.

“We invited the pope to Inuit Nunangat as a part of the larger Call to Action 58 from the (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), which calls for the pope to come to Canada to apologize to Indigenous Peoples in relation to the role that the Catholic church played in residential schools,” he said.

“The pope was kind enough to say how much he wished that that will come to pass. We look forward to further conversations with the Catholic church about whether or not there is an opportunity in the near future.”

Obed also told the pope about “outstanding concerns” around the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the church still owing $25 million in restitution.

While the church has paid $3 million so far and is raising funds for the balance, Obed said “we would like to see more immediate action.”

He also invited the pope to partner on the “heartbreaking challenge of Indigenous children that are being found on residential (school properties) in unmarked graves,” Obed told a news conference.

And, he urged Pope Francis to direct the church to use its considerable resources to help “in any way they can possibly help to ensure we find closure.”

If Rivoire, who is believed to be in his nineties and living in a Catholic retirement home, is “not agreeable” to facing the charges in Canada, then Obed said he asked the pope to work with the French government to ensure that either extradition can happen or that Rivoire can be tried in France.”